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Thursday, May 14, 2009
Action Sports Report


Drake McElroy during his heyday, X Games Eleven.

[Ed.'s Note: The Action Sports Report is a weekly blog that covers sports from skateboarding to snowboarding to FMX.]

Goal setting. Skills drills. Friendly competition. Sounds like the daily itinerary for a typical summer sports camp. Then you spot the oversized foam pits, giant resi landings and metal motocross ramps and realize this is anything but.

This week, Red Bull held the final session of its second of four freestyle motocross camps at the RB Compound in northern Los Angeles. (Think gymnastics camp on steroids. With dirtbikes.) Two young up-and-coming riders, Lance Coury, 19, from southern California and Rob Adelberg, 20, from Melbourne, Australia, spent two weeks at the Compound under the tutelage of longtime pro Drake McElroy, 27, the sport's first true athlete-turned-coach. McElroy, a longtime X Games competitor, spent six years sponsored by the Wing Bearers before deciding to make the switch from competitor to mentor. "The sport is getting more dangerous and I am getting older and more responsible," McElroy says. "I still love riding my dirtbike, but contests aren't worth it anymore. There had never been a way to carve out a living outside of competing. Until now. I am going to pull it off."

Fashioned after the company's surf and snowboard programs, the camps are overseen by Red Bull's High Performance Manager Andy Walshe and are run much like any off-season sports training program. "Andy had a template and asked me to help them manipulate the program to relate to freestyle motocross," McElroy says. "We started working with the team and now we're giving a shot to kids who are under the radar or don't have the opportunities a branded, well-known guy would have."

Each of the athletes invited to the camps are scouted by Red Bull reps around the world and brought to Los Angeles on the company's dime. (The company does not currently sponsor most of the invitees, but chances are good they'll all be wearing red, yellow and blue soon enough.) Professional riders who are not invited or sponsored by Red Bull are not allowed access to the training facility and the camp is not open to young kids who simply want to learn how to launch ramps. For now, these are an exclusive, invite-only camps for riders who have shown promise at local competitions or demos.

At the first camp, held in March, a little-known 17-year-old Kiwi named Levi Sherwood impressed the staff and his peers with his mature riding style and advanced trick set. The next week, he went to Mexico City and won X Fighters Mexico against a tough field of veteran riders. "There are tons of kids who are growing up watching X Games and starting out in freestyle instead of racing," McElroy says. "If what we do at these camps builds a base for the sport so those kids have something incredible to look forward to, I am all for that."

But afternoon video-replay and goal-setting sessions in freestyle motocross? "This is where the sport is now," McElroy says. "Everyone takes it way more seriously and if you are going to be good and make money, you have to put a lot into it. This is what freestyle needs to legitimize it as a sport."

What's next, diet and exercise programs?

Wait. They have that, too.

WHITE ON BLACK

This week, we also caught up with skateboarder (snowboard season's over!) Shaun White, who is spending time at home in SoCal recuperating from an ankle injury. In June, White will fly to the Cayman Islands to take part in a summer camp of his own, called Skate Cayman. On June 12, local kids and tourists will have the opportunity to ride with White at the 60,000-square-foot Black Pearl skate park, which is billed as the second-largest skate park in the world.

"A few years ago, Hawk and some guys went to the Caymas when the park opened and I was so jealous," White says. "They had a great time and I was off somewhere cold. I'm excited to break away from contests and movie premiers and interact with kids. I can't wait to skate the park. It's massive. I can go to a park the fraction of its size and be entertained, so I can't wait to explore this mountain of a skate park. Plus, the weather is amazing and you can swim with stingrays. I'll spend my personal days getting sunburned and swimming with large animals."